Lucias to reunite in Gopher State
Kit Loughran | Thursday, November 6, 2014
The Irish travel to Minnesota to face the top-ranked Gophers this weekend.
No. 15 Notre Dame (5-2-1, 1-0-1 Hockey East) kicks off its first road series with games tonight and Sunday at the Gophers’ Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. This marks the 42nd all-time meeting between Notre Dame and No. 1 Minnesota (5-1-0, 0-0-0) — a series the Gophers lead 24-14-3. Last season, the Irish also competed against the Gophers when they held the No. 1 ranking, a home series the two teams split.
“They are the best team in the country — that’s the biggest challenge [going up to Minnesota],” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “They have depth in every position, [and] they’re a great speed team, a great transition team.
“In the past, we’ve had really great games with them, but like I said, we are still growing up as a team, so we just need to make sure we do a good job with the puck, don’t put ourselves at risk on transition, and we are going to have to defend. We have to make sure that we get back because they are a very talented team.”
The Irish enter the series on an unbeaten streak. Notre Dame opened its 2014 Hockey East campaign last Friday against Vermont, with a 3-2 win and a 2-2 tie against the Catamounts. Junior center Thomas DiPauli and junior left wing Mario Lucia put the Irish up 2-0 in the first period Friday. While the Catamounts equalized the game in the second period, DiPauli netted a third-period goal for an Irish victory. Goals from Lucia and freshman right wing Jake Evans, along with freshman goaltender Cal Peterson’s career-high 42 saves, lead to Saturday’s 2-2 tie.
“Vermont is a very good team, and they put a lot of pressure on us,” Jackson said. “I thought we did a really good job early in the game on Saturday night of managing the puck, but they created a lot more turnovers as the game progressed, too many extended shifts that led to bad changes and a lot of different things, so it’s just a matter of us making sure we get better as we play these high-tempo teams.”
Once again against Minnesota, Lucia revives his rivalry with his father, former Irish player and current Gophers head coach Don Lucia. Mario may threaten his father’s 5-1-0 record as he enters the weekend the Hockey East leader in points and goals, with eight goals and two assists in eight games. He was recently named the Hockey East/Warrior player of the month for October, and against his father’s team, the younger Lucia has netted two goals and one assist.
While Lucia continues to help the Irish offense to find its rhythm on the ice, Notre Dame also works toward building its defensive lines. During the season’s start, veteran defensemen junior Andy Ryan and senior Robbie Russo have worked to create chemistry with the underclassmen as the Irish continue to develop their lines. Russo is second behind Lucia with six goals and three assists for nine points, while Ryan has tallied three assists in eight games.
Ryan and Russo both recorded assists against Vermont on Friday, and Ryan said they can apply what they learned defensively against Vermont, especially Saturday’s third period play, to Minnesota this weekend.
“We were on our heels the whole period, [and] we played not to lose, which definitely isn’t a good thing,” Ryan said. “If we get a lead like that, we need to keep the pressure on them. They were obviously coming at us hard because they were down by two goals, but we need to make sure to make plays under pressure, so hopefully we can learn from that [going forward against Minnesota].”
Senior forward Kyle Rau and sophomore forward Justin Kloos currently lead Minnesota’s scoring effort with three goals and five goals, respectively. Junior defenseman Mike Reilly follows behind point-leader Rau with eight points from eight assists, while senior forward Seth Ambroz nears his 50th career point with one goal and one assist on the season.
The Irish defense will look to end Minnesota’s 15-game home unbeaten streak this weekend by shutting down the top-ranked Gophers’ offensive efforts.
“The biggest thing is their team speed and how fast they are at transitioning from defense to offense,” Ryan said. “If I remember from last time, all four lines had fours that could really skate and could put pressure on you when they had the puck. As a defenseman, you have to be conscious of guys getting behind you because some of their fours like to jump to offense.”
The Irish take on No. 1 Minnesota tonight at 8 p.m. and again Sunday at 5 p.m.